The Mississippi State softball team finally kicked its offense into gear Saturday at No. 15 Arkansas.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, though, MSU’s pitching faltered when coach Samantha Ricketts’ team needed it most to hang on.
The Bulldogs (15-13, 0-8 Southeastern Conference) blew a 6-2 lead in an 8-7 loss to the Razorbacks (27-3, 8-0) on Saturday in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“We’re just still waiting to put together all three phases,” Ricketts said in a news release from Mississippi State. “We need the hitters to show up when the pitchers show up and vice versa. That’s what we’re going to continue to work for and keep focusing on — the little things, the details, putting it all together.”
For two and a half innings, the Bulldogs looked like they had. Mississippi State scored on an RBI single by senior designated player Carter Spexarth in the first inning — the Bulldogs’ first run since the first inning March 14 at Ole Miss, a stretch comprising nearly six full contests.
“As soon as Carter hit that ball, I just knew it was down, so I knew I was running and I was going to score,” sophomore second baseman Paige Cook said. “I thought it was going to fire up the team and get us going. It has been a long time. I knew as soon as that run scored that we were going to produce hits and have a great game. It really fired up me and everybody.”
In the second, MSU plated two more runs on an error before an RBI single by senior first baseman Fa Leilua. Senior catcher Mia Davidson added a solo home run in the third before sophomore shortstop Madisyn Kennedy hit an RBI double.
“It was fun to finally see the ball start to drop,” Ricketts said. “We’ve been preaching sticking with the process, having quality at-bats and not getting too big in big moments. I thought they did a great job of being focused from the first inning on and being able to score first.”
But by then, the Bulldogs’ pitching had already started to wobble.
In the bottom of the second against starter Emily Williams, Arkansas cut a 4-2 MSU lead in half with an RBI single and a fielder’s choice. Then, against reliever Alyssa Loza, the Hogs caught fire in the third to wipe out a 6-2 Mississippi State advantage.
Loza took over in the circle with two runners on and nobody out, and she allowed a single before walking two straight batters to score two Razorbacks runs. Arkansas redshirt sophomore center fielder Sam Torres drove in a run with a single, and Hannah McEwen was hit by a pitch to tie the game.
Arkansas took its first lead of the game on the second pitch by MSU sophomore Aspen Wesley in the fourth inning when redshirt junior first baseman Linnie Malkin homered for the second straight game. Torres added an RBI single later in the inning.
Cook got a run back with a one-out double in the sixth, scoring junior left fielder Chloe Malau’ulu and putting runners on second and third. Leilua popped up, Davidson was intentionally walked, and Spexarth struck out looking to end the frame.
The Bulldogs went down in order in the seventh as they remained winless in SEC play, but their performance offered hope for improved play to come.
“I think we’re fighting,” Ricketts said. “They definitely have not gone away yet.”
Friday: No. 15 Arkansas 2, Mississippi State 0
The Bulldogs suffered their fifth straight shutout loss Friday, a 2-0 defeat to the Razorbacks in the series opener in Fayetteville.
Malkin drove in the only runs of the game with a two-run homer off Mississippi State starter Annie Willis in the fourth inning.
Willis struck out 12 Hogs in a complete-game performance in the circle, allowing just two hits.
But MSU managed just four hits of its own and left seven runners on base, including two each in the fifth and sixth inning.
“We’re right there,” Willis said in a news release after the game. “We’re going to keep punching until we break through that wall. And we’re going to break through. That just shows how much fight we have and how much we’re going to fight to do it.”